SPEED, John (1552 - 1629). Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. "The Countye of Monmouth wih the situation of the Shire-towe Described Ann 160". London: Bassett & Chiswell, 1676.
Single sheet (15 x 20 inches) Full margins showing the plate mark (slight browning to edge, some foxing, light offsetting, creasing)
An elegant uncolored map of Monmouthshire; taken from the famous Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine by English cartographer John Speed. These 17th century plates were engraved in Amsterdam by the great Dutch mapmaker Jodocus Hondius. They exhibit the highest level of craftsmanship and artistic embellishment from the strapwork cartouches, mast ships, Mannerist figures, and striking detailing.
A highly mountainous and hilly region, Monmouthshire stretches its borders with several other Shires within Wales. The map dutifully bares two coat of arms: those of the ruling King Charles II; and those of Wales. Each of these arms is beautifully framed in an elegant cartouche. The heraldic badge of the Prince of Wales, represented by three white feathers emerging from a gold coronet, is presented in the lower left corner.
The town plan of Monmouth is inset, depicting a bustling town, complete with its coat of arms. A letter guide and key provide a guide to the significant roads and buildings. This plan was mapped by John Speed himself, as indicted by the ‘Scale of Pases’ and dividers.
Monmouth, a traditional county market town within Monmouthshire, was also the birthplace of King Henry V (1387). This is highlighted by a circular frame baring his portrait below the town plan.
The 1676 edition also carries some additional shields, most previously printed on some maps. This includes James Scot, 1st Duke of Monmouth (1663); and that of Robert Carey, 1st Earl of Monmouth (1626).
The county maps found in the Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine were the first consistent attempt to show territorial divisions, but it was mainly Speed’s town plans that were the major innovation and probably his greatest contribution to British cartography. Together, they formed the first printed collection of town plans of the British Isles and, for at least 50 of the 73 included in the Theatre, it was the first time these towns had been mapped. While being the first English atlas of the British Isles, Speed’s Atlas was also one of the first attempts to accurately survey Ireland and to incorporate a comprehensive list of their town plans into the maps. The 1676 edition of Speed's atlas never came with original color. The examples of this map of Monmouthsire should always be uncolored and never colored.
Born in Cheshire, John Speed developed his interest in maps in the 1580s, after moving to London to pursue his passions outside of tailoring. He there joined the Society of Antiquaries, where his enthusiasm for cartography won him the attention of William Camden, Robert Cotton, and Sir Fulke Greville. By working with these figures, Speed was able to do a large amount of research for his own work. In 1596, Greville bequeathed Speed with an unlimited allowance to research, and then later write, the Historie of Great Britaine. It was during this project which Speed had the encouragement to add a cartographic supplement to the work – what we today know as his most famous atlas. After being first published in 1611-1612, the 'Theatre of Great Britain' dominated the seventeenth-century English map market, going through many reprints and editions.
Thanks to the Atlas’ success, Speed earned the title of England’s most well-known Stuart period cartographer and his work became the blueprint for folio atlases until the mid-18th century. Historically, Speed is also noted for placing England into the mainstream of map publishing, which had been dominated by the Dutch since the late sixteenth century.
This map of Monmouthsire is an excellent part of the Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, and would be an outstanding addition to all map collections.
For more information on this map, or a warm welcome to see other maps and books of our collection at 72nd Street NYC, please contact Natalie Zadrozna.